Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

Waterbird Watch - Fall 2019

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By Board member Carl Schwartz   

Six hours a day, starting at dawn, for six days of the week, for three months each spring and fall Waterbird Watch technician Calvin Brennan scans the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan at Harrington Beach State Park in Ozaukee County. He just finished his 10th season doing the watch for the Observatory.

He sees phenomenal numbers of birds; records new and rare species for the count, the county and the state; and contributes to knowledge of how migratory birds use the western shore of Lake Michigan -- when, and in what numbers.

His latest tour of duty wrapped up Dec. 3, and he offered this summary to accompany his tally of 158,066 migrants:

“Diving ducks, including Red-breasted Mergansers, were somewhat low (down 32,000 from fall 2018), even given the recent extension of the season (to account for climate change). Canada Geese, Common Loons and some of the dabblers were higher than average. Parasitic Jaegers were in record numbers with a high of four in one day and perhaps most remarkable of all on an entirely separate day, were three flying southbound as a group. New species for the overall list were Red-necked Phalarope, Sabine's Gull and Pacific Loon.”

Here’s Calvin’s Top 10 list for fall 2019:
Red-breasted Merganser              87,659
Ring-billed Gull                           19,639
Canada Goose                            15,846
Double-crested Cormorant           11,210
Herring Gull                                3,634
Mallard                                       2,680
Greater Scaup                             2,217
Common Loon                             1,308
Lesser Scaup                               1,254
Bonaparte's Gull                          1,046
    The spring and fall flow are different; here’s the Top 10 list from spring 2019, when 175,954 birds were recorded:
Bonaparte's Gull                          42,962
Red-breasted Merganser              28,735
Herring Gull                                14,020
Common Tern                             11,592
Greater Scaup                             10,657
Ring-billed Gull                            10,337
Double-crested Cormorant            9,748
Long-tailed Duck                          5,765
Lesser Scaup                               5,526
Mallard                                        5,085